Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Things I've Learned About Writing

Over the course of my writing years, I've learned not to underestimate my ability to screw things up. I learned the hard way that not all jeans are Levis, not all paper tissues are Kleenex, not all temples have an angel on top, poring over a letter is not the same spelling as pouring water, and not all plasterboard is Sheetrock. A letter, a comma, so many little things change a meaning, imply a different nuance, and make the difference between a "good" story and a polished story.

I've learned too that computers are both a writer's blessing and curse. Having started my writing career on a manual Smith Corona and moved up to an electric then a data processer and eventually a series of ever more complex computers, I know firsthand that a lot more gets written using a computer than I could ever hope to accomplish with a typewriter. I'm not sorry to no longer need carbon paper, type erasers, or correction paper. Still computers are the cause of much more wasted time than the old Smith Corona ever was. It simplifies research, yet entices its user to play games and read endless trivia. Facebook monopolizes hours of time that could be better spent actually writing---though it's a great networking tool, an excellent way to stay in touch with friends, family, and readers.

No matter how talented a writer may be, he/she needs to constantly brush up on word usage, grammar, do research, learn new computer techniques and programs, and pay attention to little things like regular backups, a surge protector, and adherence to publisher guidelines. If attention isn't given to these peripheral matters, disaster can wipe out the most beautiful and perfect words.

The struggling artist who lives in an unheated attic and lives on bread and whiskey is as much a thing of the past as my old Smith-Corona. Today's writer who isolates him or herself from life doesn't relate to today's reader. Today whether a book is set on the American frontier, a New York penthouse, or in outer space, readers want to relate to the characters in a personal way.

With the flurry the past few weeks of getting my newest book ready to go to press, I read over the dedication and acknowledgements I wrote six months ago and decided I still mean them. There really are many people besides the author who play a part in moving a concept from inside one person's head to actual words on paper, neatly tucked between a front cover and a back cover. There are the people employed by the publisher who edit, proof read, write a cover blurb, choose a title, design a cover, create a promotion program, and handle the details of production. There are friends, critique groups, and fans who cheer the writer on, read drafts, help with research, etc. And not least of all, there's the writer's family. These are the people who believe in us, pick up the slack in the housework, feed us, and who think being wife, husband, mommy, daddy, grandma, grandpa is our greatest achievement. They think it's great we write books, but take greater pride in our ability to kick a soccer ball, bake brownies, or remember birthdays.

It's disappointing to screw up a spelling or confuse a brand name with a generic name. It feels like the sky is falling when we mess up properly saving our precious prose. But the one place I hope I never fail is in letting my family and friends know I love and appreciate them.
Reminder:  April's Wish List Contest ends this Saturday!

New book to be released in early June!


Mindi said...

I'm sure you have learned plenty and I am really grateful for any modern conveniences that make your job easier! One thing that hasn't changed... still love your books!

Elizabeth said...

I am so excited for your new book! Can't wait!

Jen plus 5 said...

Excellent! I look forward to reading the new book! There are so many things like computers that make things faster and easier, and I wonder what are we all going to do if someday we don't have them any more! Yikes... ;^)